tv Maria Hinojosa One-on- One PBS December 19, 2015 4:00pm-4:31pm PST
>> hinojosa: in this fast-changing, digital world, what's the future of personal privacy? of social interaction? of education? of our democracy? a conversation with harvard kennedy school professor nolan bowie. i'm maria hinojosa. this is one-on-one. >> hinojosa: professor nolan bowie, welcome to one on one. you are, my gosh, you are one of those renaissance men, so i'm going to list a few of the things that you've done in your life. you are a lawyer, you're a professor at the kennedy school of government, you are a former member of the u.s. naval reserves... this one i just loved: former assistant special prosecutor in the watergate
special prosecution force. oh my god. and you're an artist and a writer. i don't know how you do all these things. how do you do it all? >> it's usually one at a time. >> hinojosa: (laughs) so not multitasking? >> well, that too, on occasion. >> hinojosa: but fascinating, even though you devote your life to understanding communication, democracy, literacy, access, you are not one of those people who is on facebook, on twitter, communicating all the time with the masses. >> well, one of the reasons i have time to do the other things is that i'm not on facebook and communicating with an amorphous mass of people who, you know, distract your attention from what you may think is more important. >> hinojosa: so those of us who are, for example, in the media and who are feeling quite challenged in terms of reaching all of these audiences, especially in the public media... what are you saying to us, in
terms of audiences and reaching them? are you saying, "look, you're going about it the right way," or do we need to stop and reconfigure? >> well, i think we need to value our personal time. what we have in common as human beings is a 24-hour day. that's probably the greatest resource that anyone has. once you lose it and it passes by, you can never regain it. so, you know, what impact do you want to make in the world, in your society, among your friends, whoever you consider your friends to be? if you want to communicate to an audience, i think the most important thing is the content of the message. if it has a buzz, if it's attractive to others, they will hear it, they'll repeat it to others and, you know, establish you as the person who was the originator of a particular idea or an explanation.
i don't think you have to be on all media all the time, because most media right now is interconnected in any event. you have synergy where the dominant media companies have trickled down to all of their other owned properties. eventually, it winds up all in the same pool. as a matter of fact, if you... there are very few sources for, say, news, for example. you know, a lot of it is aggregated, so it doesn't matter what particular channel you go to, you generally get the same middle channel news unless you are willing to explore sort of the competing ideas on the edges, whether it be the right or the left. >> hinojosa: so you say... so there's more, of course, now, we know, multiple channels, multiple points of access. does it really mean that we're hearing multiple voices, multiple opinions? >> well, no, but that's not to say that the possibility of that
cannot occur. but what you have generally are dominant voices, and many of those are basically traditional corporate voices, or the voices with the dominant brands in the analog world are also the primary sources of most of the content where people actually go to get news or information or entertainment. that's not to say that there's no space for, say, bloggers or for ordinary individuals to communicate. it's just that the internet, you have to understand, is very wide and deep, and it's easy to get lost in it. it's not necessarily, at this point in time, a medium of mass communications. >> hinojosa: so, when you say that it's wide and deep, there's also the question of who in fact has access to it to dive in? and there's an assumption in our country, and i would say even an
assumption of people around the world, that everyone has access to this, that everyone has access to a computer, that everyone can get online. i mean, you see everybody with their phones. in fact, as someone who has studied issues of access, it's not like that at all, right? at least in our country, there is a percentage of people who are excluded, outside, because of, what, poverty and...? >> well, let me first deal with the so-called digital divide on a global scale. we have probably close to seven billion people in the world right now, and at most, right now, it's close to 1.8 billion people who have actually gone online or use the internet. it means that while 1.8 billion people are online, and that's a lot of people, it means close to five billion are not. in the united states, we have what most people refer to as a digital divide.
i use the term "digital divides," i put an 's' behind this. you know, there's a divide based not only on wealth and educational attainment here, but in terms of age, in terms of place of residence and place of speed. for example, hispanics and blacks tend to have connectivity to the internet increasingly with mobile communications devices like cell phones. >> hinojosa: latinos are, in fact, in terms of social media, and in terms of activity, very engaged. >> right. well, um, cell phones tend to be cheaper than notebook computers or desktop computers, but they do have limitations. even though you can communicate with them extremely well, either through voice or texting, you can't produce a lot of creative kinds of activity like you would if you had a keyboard and were looking at a larger screen. you can't be a good computer artist using a cell phone and
not having a big screen computer. so, you know, it has its pluses but it also has its minuses, it has these costs. >> hinojosa: well, paint a picture of what that looks like so people can kind of have it in their heads. i mean, i, for example, recently was traveling in the caribbean, and people were talking about, you know, the access to cell phones and im and texting as a way of, you know, popular forms of democracy. very interesting. but then i was with haitian people. they were illiterate and, therefore... barely literate in terms of numbers. but, um, what good does, you know, this tool of democracy provide if, in fact, you have people who are too poor to know how to read or to have access to using one of those fancy phones? >> well, you mentioned literacy, and that's one of the key issues of divides. it's part of the state's role in
providing universal education to its population. >> hinojosa: well, everybody assumes that the united states of america is a fully literate country. >> wrong. >> hinojosa: wrong? >> yes. you can look at some of the studies done by the u.s. department of education, adult education, in terms of literacy attainment. you have a, uh, large... close to 49% of the population that have difficulty reading the news. it's kind of hard to define literacy with a hard line, but they tend to be at the lowest two levels of literacy levels, one and two, which means that while they may be able to mouth the words necessarily, they don't understand the comprehension of what the words mean. they have a tendency not to file for applications for job promotions. they tend to not understand complex bus or public
transportation schedules. things like that. and that's not to say that they're not bright, because many people who are illiterate have phenomenal memories, and that's how they get around and they're quite functional, but we do have a problem, and it's related to both race and poverty. you can... there's a correlation of people who live in low-income housing or inmate populations that have lower degrees of literacy. i'm on the board of something called literacy.org, which is based on, uh... it's also coupled with, uh, the, uh, unesco's international literacy institute. illiteracy is a problem we think is just in the, um, undeveloped or developing countries, but it's also here, even in the commonwealth of massachusetts... >> hinojosa: in fact, the commonwealth of massachusetts
has some pretty extraordinarily high numbers. >> well, high numbers on one end, but high numbers on the lower end, also. too many adults who have too low a level of literacy, and without the facilities to give them training and, because of budget cuts, they're being reduced, also. >> hinojosa: it could get worse. so, this is the name of one of your classes at the harvard kennedy school: "new media: surveillance, access, propaganda and democracy." >> right. >> hinojosa: so, you're actually also... not only are you... are you propagating for more democracy in terms of access... >> a better quality of democracy, also. >> hinojosa: a better quality of democracy, more awareness of the have-nots. you're also very concerned, as are many americans, about the issue of our loss of personal... you know, kind of our loss of personal privacy. >> well, they go hand in hand. i don't think you can have a true democracy if, uh, citizens don't have privacy. >> hinojosa: and yet, everybody
says, "well, wait a second, we understand privacy, but we are living in different times now, and therefore, if you have to frisk me in a way that i've never been touched before at the airport, or you have to use my internet information in a way that i never thought, i'm uncomfortable, but what can i do?" and you say...? >> well, we can do a lot, but we need public policies in place to help us protect the shrinking expectation of privacy that we may have. now, the fourth amendment to the u.s. constitution provides us with a reasonable expectation of privacy, but unless you know the capacity of the given technology, and they're being invented all the time, uh, unless you know who's gathering your information, your personal information, and what they're doing with it, it's hard to be able to say that you have a right of privacy. and privacy is not just a single
value, it's a multiplicity of values, some which compete with one another. initially, i think it was brandeis who defined it as a right to be let alone. >> hinojosa: oh, i would love to have that right to be... (laughs) >> well, does anyone have the right to be let alone... >> hinojosa: i don't think we do. >> ... and still participate in society? >> hinojosa: i don't think we do at this point. >> and then, subsequently, it's been sort of, uh, evolving into a right to be able to, uh, define yourself to the outside world. in other words, that you might have control over your personal information. in this world that we live in now, private corporations, advertisers, third-party, uh, "numerati," which is made up of the mathematicians who use very sophisticated algorithms to look into large databases to find patterns so that they can anticipate our behavior and ultimately maybe control it. so, they sell this information
after processing it to third- party advertisers who, uh, then know how to hypodermically, one-to-one, suggest that we buy a certain thing or do a certain thing... >> hinojosa: oh, my gosh. >> ... because they know what kind of decisions will give us a shot of dopamine and make us happy. >> hinojosa: oh, my god. give me one example of where you think that that... >> well, it happens all the time, and we don't think of it as that. if you buy books on amazon, they may suggest books. if you download movies or get them through the mail through netflix, they make suggestions all the time based upon your prior behavior. you know, we're creatures of habit in that we're likely to repeat a past activity which has given us pleasure rather than experimenting and trying something new and taking a chance with the new because, you know, we're somewhat insecure. >> hinojosa: so, there's something about you that a lot of people don't know, that... which is intriguing, that you are married to lani guinier. she was nominated by president
clinton... >> she was nominated, at least initially, for an appointment as assistant attorney general for civil rights. >> hinojosa: and then something happened. and you were living that behind the scenes, and i'm sure that must have been a really... you know, as somebody like you who studies the media and the use of media and images, what did you take away from what happened with your family, with lani guinier, in that year? >> well, she was denied the opportunity to even, um, present who she was to the larger public, to defend her positions and her writings before congress and let them decide, since they actually had the authority in terms of advice and consent. and largely, i think it was a consequence of, uh, president clinton not willing to fight the good fight for, um, principles as well as a friend. and that, um... he was under assault at the time.
he had just, uh... he was being pushed back with his own initiatives in terms of health care and gays in the military at the time, so a lot of it, i think, had to do with unfortunate timing. >> hinojosa: well, what was that like to essentially realize that, you know, here are these ideas, and essentially in our country... >> well, good ideas don't always... >> hinojosa: freedom of speech and essentially... >> ...have an opportunity to be heard. what it showed me is that even someone who is very bright, who is articulate, who is ready... we have no rights to access media, ultimately, unless through ownership or the grant of an exclusive monopoly license from the government. so in other words, um, access... effective access is very limited to wealth, and increasingly so, which has a negative impact on
the quality and type of democracy that we have or can have. >> hinojosa: so what is the takeaway that we... those of us who remember what happened when lani guinier was there? what is the takeaway? what did you take away as an academic, as an african-american academic, um, seeing this happening within your own family? what do we need to learn from that? >> well, you have to work with what you have, and you have to explore other avenues and opportunities to reach your goal. her goal was basically to have a voice so that she could articulate to a broader american public what the issues were involving discrimination and to suggest different sets of legal remedies and political remedies. and that negative publicity, particularly that appeared in
the wall street journal and then followed by other media, saying that she had strange hair, that she was anti... >> hinojosa: oh, my god. >> well, i mean, you know... >> hinojosa: they actually said those things? >> well, they did, but, you know, she was strong enough to sort of brush that off and move on. what she found was that the amount of publicity, even though it was negative, opened up opportunities. people wanted to find out who she really was. so she ultimately wound up on the lecture circuit. that particular incident probably made her a more... even attractive to, uh, harvard law school, where she became the first african-american woman who was tenured at the law school. and it also, i think, had something to do, in the long run, with me getting to the kennedy school. so it wound up being serendipitous. >> hinojosa: so... but i guess, you know, again, as high-profile african-american
academics, um... you know, and sure, now we have a president who is african american, but... but we are far from being that advanced, inclusive country that i guess many of us still imagine that we are. i mean, you are highly critical of the state of things in the united states of america, not only in terms of media and access to media, but in terms of race relations, too. >> yes, well, there's good reason to be so, and i think, also, every nation needs its critics. if everyone were to sing to the choir, that would not be democracy and there would be no push for any kind of improvement. you can't be satisfied with mediocrity or a compromise of core values. in terms of opportunities for meaningful social and political reform, i think it's much more difficult now than before obama
was elected president, and it's not just his fault or his administration's fault. it has a lot to do with corruption in terms of economic policy, of corporate criminality, i think. the politicized u.s. supreme court, particularly with the negative impact of its decision in citizens united v. the federal election commission, which has wide implications in terms of... i see it as undermining democracy and promoting plutocracy, where wealth ultimately determines political outcomes. >> hinojosa: well, you know, i think that one of the things that you've done in this extraordinary curriculum of your life, which is really quite amazing, but again, i was really fascinated with you serving as an assistant special prosecutor for the watergate special prosecution force.
i mean, you were, at that point, living in a moment in our country's history when... talk about corruption, it could not have been clearer, and at the highest level. and i guess, you know, having served there, having been through that, and then where we are now in these modern united states of america. so, progress? or entrenched divisions that are so deep and so profound and so entrenched in terms of money and elites and all that, that we're all, you know, we're all kind of victims here? >> well, we're only victims if we allow ourselves to be. ultimately, in order to overcome the negative effects and impact of organized money, whether it's corrupt or otherwise, is by organizing people. >> hinojosa: and that doesn't mean organizing people on twitter or on facebook? you're talking about organizing people to actually go to the
street, to be visible? >> in some ways, yes. traditional grassroots type of organizing, you know, the kind that took place in, say, wisconsin, the kind that's taking place, uh, without the violence, in the middle east, which is sort of a spontaneous kind of people's democracy. maybe we need that here, also, in this country to protect our core values, which we think are essential. i'm a beneficiary of the national defense education act, which helped me to get through college. that law was a consequence of congress's fear of the success of the soviet union's launch of sputnik. now, president obama has said that we're again in a sputnik moment, that we need to react the way that congress did and think about where are we headed and what the nature of our society is and what the real
threats are. for example, the national defense education act, i think, needs to be updated today with something like a national defense education information and knowledge act, something that would provide subsidies to get more graduates of colleges and universities among ordinary people who are quite capable of succeeding in a knowledge-based global economy, because if we don't have a work force that's productive and creative, it's going to have, and is having, a negative impact in terms of our security. >> hinojosa: so what is it that you want people to do, professor bowie? >> well, know what you're consuming and why. try to use it to empower not only yourself and your communities. i was an advisor to the knight commission that studied the types of content needed in order
to enable and empower a democracy, and it was not, uh, netflix and movies and other kinds of distractions. it was the kind of information that included what's happening at city hall, what's happening at the state legislature, what's happening with the federal government in terms of services. we have an opportunity now, because congress had mandated that the fcc develop a national broadband plan, and the united states is one of the few advanced countries still without a national broadband plan... >> hinojosa: hard to believe. >> ... to develop a, uh, infrastructure for the 21st century. however, that was not done. at most, the commission's plan looked only for ten years that everyone would have a, um, ten megabytes per second in terms of access, and they would call that high-speed broadband.
whereas now, if you look at the kind of access available in south korea, hong kong, and even kansas city, upcoming, as a consequence of a gift from google, they have one gigabyte per second access. we should be looking for an infrastructure that covers the whole nation, one that is... has the term in it: ubiquitous. one that has a timeframe, goals and timetables so that we can measure the progress, that if we don't meet the timetable, then government will declare a market failure and become the service provider of last resort. >> hinojosa: so for people who are interested in this, who want to be engaged, what do you want them to do, professor? what it is... you know, what should they do? should they be online? should they be going to the library? should they be working with literacy in our country? you know, regular citizens who are consuming this media... what is the message that you want to
leave them with in terms of their engagement and what they should do? >> well, i want them to become informed, first of all, and that means they're going to have to start reading. now, they can read online. i do a lot of my reading online. or they can go to the libraries. i would hope they would go to the libraries in order to create greater and greater demand so the libraries can be saved and be protected into the future, even with new services. already, they are sort of community centers for single parents, primarily working mothers, for the kids to go to after they get out of school. they have to... what democracy is about is a, uh, conversation, an ongoing conversation among neighbors and ordinary people engaged in discussing common problems, seeking common solutions. i think that they ought to practice democracy, and not just once every four years or once every two years during elections. >> hinojosa: all right, well, professor, thank you for sharing those thoughts and for practicing democracy right here. we appreciate it. thank you, professor nolan
funding for "overhead" with evan smith is provided in part by m.f.i. foundation, improving the quality of life within our community. and from the texas board of legal specialization, board certified attorneys in your community. experienced, respected, and tested. also by hillco partners, a texas government affairs consultancy. and by the alice kleberg reynolds foundation. and viewers like you. thank you. i'm evan smith. he's the united states senator from vermont who self-describes as a socialist, serves as an independent, and may run for president as a democrat in 2016. he's the honorable bernie sanders. this is "overheard." [applause]. >> actually, there are not two sides to every issue. >> so i guess we can't fire him now. >> i guess we can't fire him now. the night that i win the emmy.